© by Gary Morton (3 Jan 96)
Dan moved slowly so he wouldn't trip, and he could feel the friendly touch of the sunlight spilling through the attic window. The dust had an aged scent, mixed odors of things willingly locked away and forgotten. He'd been picking through flea-market-type odds and ends for about an hour, childhood memories marching through his mind with the many fragrances of dust. Some blind people find the past to be like a river running with deep currents of emotion, but to Dan the attic was like a womb or time capsule. His life was inside the capsule, cruel horizons were locked on the outside and he was comforted in knowing that once there were good times. In his memory moments of inspiration were his sight; a pure inner light and bright lifeline that kept his personality safe from the many chasms of sorrow and disappointment.
His cane bumped an object on the floor, and he could tell it was a necklace. Using the worn floorboards to his advantage he picked it up and it slid down the cane into his hand. He examined it, feeling a thin chain, a large bead, and what was likely a wolf fang.
Before he could think, the warmth of the sun vanished from the window and the fang went cold in his hand; unreasonable fear crept over him and he decided to leave the attic. Not wanting to lose the necklace while climbing down, he fastened it around his neck.
Then he took a step and his thoughts took off, accelerating past clarity to confusion and pain. Staggering back he fell in pile of clothing. It was like he'd landed at the bottom of a deep well and the impact had cleared the confusion to leave one brilliant thought in his head. A thought he couldn't fully comprehend, even though it was the most important thought he'd ever had.
Interpretation shifted and he realized that the thought was really a large object. Smiling like an infant he touched it like it was a new toy. Depth perception stole into his awareness; the object was a chair. Something was beyond it so he looked up and was quickly dazzled by lights brighter than his usual emotions.
"I can see," he whispered as the truth sank in. Moving forward quickly he touched objects, and as fast as he touched them he understood what they were. After covering the room he stopped and looked around, finding that the room made sense to him now.
A sky of gray shades pulsed outside the window, it was a grim ocean over a world he could still only guess at. Turning from the window he saw something that startled him; it was up in the corner rafters, and was made of blindness, evil moods and a large chunk of gray sky.
It threw out sky-colored wings and whirled down on him. Dan stumbled and struggled against a flurry of beating wings, shivers, high-pitched cries and dark memories. Poison hate was invading his mind; he threw the creature over his shoulder and it crashed through the window. A coat rack and chair went over as he hurried out the door.
It was soaring through the broken window as he slammed the door, and it thumped against the wood, causing him to lose his balance and tumble wildly down the stairs.
He' d been alone in the house since his mother's death a week ago, and now the place took on the aspect of a sinister cave. He was terrified of its hidden corners. Panic sent him stumbling down the main stairs, clinging desperately to the railing, and he didn't stop - he rushed out the door.
On the front walk he halted and looked up; the bird thing was circling the house, shining darkness skated on its monstrous wings. Its one good eye gleamed and it swooped like a bat. Falling to his knees he covered his head, then the sun burst through the clouds and a golden beam struck the creature. It released a sharp cry that broke one of the front windows, then it lifted zygodactyl claws, soared upward and flew off toward the safe darkness on the horizon.
Dan uncovered his head and let the new sun colors dance in his mind. He wondered why heaven and hell were being given to him in this quiet suburban neighborhood. He was undeserving of both, he had sacrificed good and evil to the clockwork of life just like everyone else. No one had inspiration without dollar signs attached any more. Pain and insecurity were acute now that mediocrity had been exploded. He began to think about his position as the last living member of the Mint family and he felt sad.
Finally he got to his feet and grinned; what could you lose when you were the last? A beautiful woman turned down the walk, the breeze rippled her dress and lifted the locks of her hair. She had a friendly feminine radiance and sparkling eyes. He didn't really have to touch her to know who she was or what she was made of, but he still opened his arms like a man who wasn't sure what he was about to embrace.
She stopped in her tracks, leaving him poised to embrace the air. Cold astonishment appeared on her face. "Why are you out here - what's happened?"
"Ann, I can see! And some kind of bird attacked me."
"That's wonderful!" she said, and they embraced. "You should see a specialist right away. We've got to know if it's permanent."
"No need to rush things," he said.
She was looking at him analytically, and her eyes had gone cold like the first gray sky he'd seen. The earlier sparkle must've been an illusion, her look wasn't that of a woman who loved him. He'd felt it in her touch the last month but he hadn't wanted to believe it. His good fortune was a complication she didn't like much. He got the feeling that she'd been stringing him along because she hadn't wanted to hurt him while his mother was dying. He began to retreat within, wishing for the old safety and security of blindness; he didn't have to open a new room in his heart for sadness and lost love, the door to an old one was already open and waiting.
"You don't look well," she said. "And you look funny wearing that necklace. We better go in and sit down."
He looked at the necklace; it was a thin gold chain with an ivory fang. The large bead, it turned out, was a glass eye. "I found it in the attic. We better not go inside right now. I told you about the bird attacking me. It was up in the attic too. It broke the window."
She looked at the broken front window. Her short nose twitched and her penciled eyebrows went up. "No bird could do that."
"Something was in there. I couldn't see it very well."
"We better call the police."
"Forget the police. I'm starving. Let's go down to the restaurant. Lunch is on me."
"You haven't any money. I should know. I'm your social worker."
"I'm running a tab with Jack. I'll pay when Mother's insurance comes through."
Maples and oaks rustled in the breeze. He looked at the millions of ragged tongues they spoke with, and the world was a song and a vision, or a zeppelin of human inspiration. At heart he still felt like a blind man, but now he felt in control while society and its mighty clockwork shattered softly at his feet. He was free of its order and free of any need for Ann - her voice lost resonance and became one with the traffic noise. The sidewalk stretched on like the palm of a hand of strange destiny. Darkness ringed the horizon and a faint sound of beating wings was in the rushing air. They closed in on the restaurant in the way all things close in on an end. He saw the city as a giant and felt that perhaps a life with Ann would've blinded him to everything but the shine on the dumb brute's armor. He would've been allowed some temporary happiness before his grave opened. There would be something else for him. Maybe he would be alone like his mother had been alone. He stepped into! Jack's thinking he hadn't been defeated in life yet; not yet because defeat was an acid that wrote its name on your face, and his complexion was unmarked.
Jack's tiny restaurant looked cleaner than it smelled, except for Jack who needed a haircut and shave. Dan drummed his fingers on the marble table-top and watched Ann go over the menu. The place was shadowy and the other customers were worn ghosts who gained their only solidity through drinking beer. He didn't like the place. He was developing an aversion to being indoors.
Ann flipped a laminated page. "Most of the young men I deal with on my job are vulgar young brutes. I've told you that, haven't I?"
She was avoiding his eyes. He assumed that as always she would leap from the usual opening question into a short speech about their relationship. "Yes, you did."
"There are always undeveloped individuals and wounded individuals, but what I was really leading up to is the gap between us. You're not a brute of course." She coughed as Jack set down coffee, her eyes drifted like she was thinking of ways to make her point. "Oh, never mind," she finally said. "I shouldn't be ruining a happy day with serious talk. I've got Thursday off. We can plan a full day - work things out for you and then have a talk."
They ate in silence and he watched the people strolling by the window. He figured that most people were pretty much what they looked to be, but because they hid a lot deliberately, much of the world was always locked in darkness. With him his mind made illusions of the darkness until reality was mostly a dream. If people agreed a stone was heavy it was because reality had a definite skeleton. Skeleton, yes, but the flesh and the beast were different in every person. Now his beast was tearing off its mask and turning the streets into a chameleon hide. It pulled at him with a wild magnetism that would've overpowered him if it weren't for the strength he had from the years of blindness. Not wanting to look out of place he waited patiently till Ann suggested they leave.
She had some work to return to at her office, and he walked along with her, feeling like her shadow. Her milky white stockings enhanced the nice curves of her calves and her white silk blouse made her breasts look almost edible. Her face and neck were pale, ghostly white. A white that was fascinating to a hungry shadow man. He thought of her frail collarbones as fine bone trinkets, and her dark hair was blowing like a kite beside the bleached boards of a tall fence. He was feeling like he'd always been a proud son of the shadows and another kind of white was rising in his perception. A white fang; it stabbed and dripped venom in his heart till the sun went dark and waves of shadows swept across the city. Losing control he seized her, forced her down against the fence, using the strength of an iron man. His eyes silenced her scream. Newly grown fangs ripped into the flesh of her neck and he drank delicious blood till the burning subsided. As he rose from her sleeping corpse he! knew he was unstoppable, too cunning and strong for ordinary humans.
He walked through a new city that was alive with ancient dreams and he was something timeless that could rear up and challenge the science and sophistication of all things modern. The skyward-sweeping buildings were keeps in a new larger castle. He followed the bat wings circling under the drifting cumulus towers. The city's distances had once been tremendous but now he found them small, his feet alone could manage them. Eventually the bat creature circled a lightning rod on a sleek black, tiered scraper and dropped to its rooftop.
Dan knew to take the elevator to the top floor, but not what awaited him there. At the top the elevator stopped and went dark. A few minutes later it moved up to an unmarked floor and opened. Dan stepped into a giant room like a dim cavern; it was hung with heavy gold-ribbed curtains and he saw a number of people sleeping in deep cushioned chairs.
His eyes adjusted. A tall man became visible in the center of the room. The man's face was handsome, ruggedly chiseled though powder pale. His clothes were black as night and sparkling with gold. He drank deeply from a gold goblet, then he turned and walked over to a curtain and threw it open, allowing gray sky to pour in.
The man turned; he was a black shadow in the gray light. "If only your mother could belong to me like you do my son. Yes, I see the same sorrow in your eyes." He gestured at the sky and his cape flowed like liquid. "We could all shed tears over what we have become, but rather than weep people all try to fix their images onto the world."
"I understand," Dan said. "In the end only the shadows live on, and we are them."